An Age of Extremes International Law in Crisis Eight Challenges

Article excerpt

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations, far away. We have learned that we must live as men.... We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community. (1)



The new world order certainly has turned out to be far different than when President George H. W. Bush made that statement shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990 and 1991. (2) It was a heady time, so full of hope, for a renewed world order. Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history, the rise of democracies, and a democratic peace. (3) A renewed U.N., neutered during the cold war, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.4 In the early 1990's the future looked bright indeed.

It did not take long for the light to dim considerably. Whole regions of the world tumbled into chaos, from the Balkans to the Great Lakes region of East Africa to West Africa. (5) Tens of thousands of human beings were murdered, raped, mutilated, and maimed. (6) Eastern Europe more gently eased into a renewed Europe, with only Romania struggling at first, killing its leader and his wife after a kangaroo court; (7) however discrimination of the Roma people intensified. (8)

Gun runners, diamond dealers, international criminal cartels, and terrorists emerged as this new world order settled into a time of uncertainty, dirty little wars, and terrorist attacks against the West, particularly the U.S. The new world order was evolving into an age of extremes with the very concept of the rule of law challenged. It was not the end of history and a democratic peace to be sure.

As the world stumbled forward into the 21st century, the very fabric of world order was torn when three planes crashed into three buildings in New York and Washington, DC heralding a time of great uncertainty and challenges head. (9) This commentary will proffer eight observations related to those challenges, challenges that threaten international law.


A decade into the 20th century, democracy has remained the aspirational goal of many peoples around the globe, yet autocracy is on the rise as well. We see this in Russia as well as in China. Capitalist in nature, yet autocratic, these two formidable nations wield influence over vast stretches of the earth and, in China's case, great influence over the world's economy. (10) This is our first challenge to consider. With this new place in the global economy what do we do about Russia and China related to their human rights record, given their relative power politically and economically on the world stage?

As permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, (11) both Russian and China can check any efforts related to human rights that they fear might threaten them. Both countries' human rights records are abysmal. (12) In the 20th century alone, eighty to ninety million people have perished under the internal policies of these two countries. (13) Because of their geopolitical and economic influence, other nations are reluctant to call them out on their past or current records of oppression. They are like sea anchors slowing the advancement of human rights. There is little realistic pressure to apply by the rest of the U.N. on Russian or Chinese human fights policies. Simply put, are these two nations getting away with murder?

Closely related to the first challenge, the second challenge is the evolution of a two-tiered system of international criminal law. In some ways, it is the West and the rest. Why are only the less-powerful nations being held accountable for alleged international crimes while the more developed nations of the West (and the two autocracies of Russia and China) being given a pass on their actions and records?

True justice and the rule of law can only be attained when that law is evenly applied across the board and not to just a few. …